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Robert Reich: Forgive social workers’ student loan debt

Former labor secretary, author and commentator Robert Reich speaks at the 2014 NASW National Conference. Photo courtesy of NASW.

Former labor secretary, author and commentator Robert Reich speaks at the 2014 NASW National Conference. Photo courtesy of NASW.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who was the closing keynote speaker at the National Association of Social Workers 2014 National Conference in July, continues to speak in support of the social work profession.

In a recent Huffington Post piece Reich said social workers, teachers and other professions that benefit society should be better compensated.

Instead, the highest pay in American society goes to multi-millionaire financiers, bankers, hedge fund managers and others professions that do not help other people or create new products and services but merely move wealth from one hand to another.

In fact, Reich said one way to help social workers and members of other helping professions is to help them pay for their education.

“Forgive the student debts of graduates who choose social work, child care, elder care, nursing, and teaching,” he said.

Cheers to Reich for speaking up for social workers!

You can watch Robert Reich and other speakers at the 2014 NASW National Conference at this website (NASW members only).

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  1. I think that social worker’s should be treated as anyone else getting a university degree and they should have to pay for their own way. Perhaps incentives or a break in paying for tuition for the practicum portion of study, would be okay. I just think that a lot of people we serve have ‘nothing’ and do not have the privilege of even considering post secondary education, so why should we get it for free.

    I am a social worker thinking of going for my masters and although, it would be great to have my education paid for, I somehow think it would go against the Social Worker Code of Ethics.

    In our office, we used to purchase office snacks for the staff out of a nutrition budget for clients, but a new Director changed that, and now we pool our own money together and bring in snacks now and then. In my view, these two examples are the same.

  2. They already have a program for this. Only qualifier is working for a non profit.

  3. The National Health Service Corps does “forgive” student loans for LCSWs and medical health care workers who are employed in an “underserved” area. My experience as a participant in the Corps was very difficult, but worth about $42,000 to me. There are similar programs for teachers. These programs ask for a commitment from the recipient, which may keep opportunistic students (those who might get a degree in social work or teaching and then enter another field) from abusing the system.

  4. Responding to Marlee: Obtaining a diploma in social work does not require one to sign a vow of poverty. I agree that not ALL teachers and social workers should have their loans forgiven, but more programs to help them would make the professions more attractive to brighter and more qualified students. As with the above mentioned stock brokers and hedge fund managers, the bottom line is financial, and I believe that doesn’t come close to violating the Social Work Code of Ethics. The first social workers were wealthy women with hearts of gold who didn’t need to earn their own “gold.” Times have changed.

  5. Thanks Sharon. Well said. This vow of poverty, Horatio Alger, stuff that many social workers cosign is why social workers are held in low esteem. Social Workers are seen as having low intelligence (especially on clinical IDT teams where the opinion/knowledge of the social worker is heavily discounted more deeply than other members with a fraction of the education/experience). In business there is an old saying: “no investment, no interest.” The less social workers recognize the socio-economic realities of this capitalistic system, the more likely they will be reduced to valueless irrelevancy.

  6. Ascribing value to a service is so subjective; however, I think we can agree that those in the financial arena base value on what is gained and what is lost. Perhaps social workers and those who teach social work should reframe the conversation.

    Instead of saying “I became a social worker because I want to help people.” We should communicate the positive impact our work has on the economic viabilty of the community at every level.

    Many social workers have an aversion to discussions of money, yet we need to speak the language of those who control the funds. Demonstrate and illustrate what the community gains when we have the means to do our work well.

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